Saul was an educated man. Saul was a devout, religious man. Saul was a confident, opinionated man. And Saul was convinced that all of the “Jesus of Nazareth” narrative he was hearing from a small group of Jewish people was dangerous. In fact, it was heresy to the Jewish way of life, faith, and worship. Saul waged war against this treacherous narrative and anyone who propagated it. After all, Saul was an educated, devoutly religious, and confidently opinionated man.
Acts 9 records the account of Saul’s life-changing conversion. God literally ‘dropped him’ on the road to Damascus, blinding him with a sudden bright light. After Jesus introduced himself and Saul responded in faith, a follower named Ananias was sent to Saul to lay hands on Saul and pray for him. In this way, the Holy Spirit filled Saul, restored to him his physical sight, and provided spiritual sight in an even greater way.
At this point in his life, Saul was a changed man. He was also a distrusted man, because the Christians of the time knew of his treachery toward people of the faith. It took quite some time for him to gain the trust of the apostles and other church leaders of the time. But Saul was also a sent man, and even though he was initially distrusted, he took the gospel to cities throughout the region on multiple missionary journeys.
Fast forward 25-plus years and many wonderful gospel-centered experiences. Now Saul, using his Hellenized name Paul, is nearing the end of his life. He will be martyred in the next three to five years. One of those challenging experiences leading up to his death appears in Acts 26. Paul has appeared before multiple leaders in their culture before appealing to Caesar and eventually standing before King Agrippa. He recounts his own conversion to Agrippa in this text.
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, ‘the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”
At first this text appears to be about Paul. But the passage is ultimately about Jesus. In a way only Jesus can, he appears before his greatest human enemy of the time with three actions in mind. Jesus is appearing, appointing and ‘aphesis’ing an entire region through his newfound relationship with Paul.
Let’s look at the three things Jesus is doing in this text. Everything begins when Jesus appears before Paul. Paul wasn’t looking for Him. This was no doubt Jesus’ initiating work in Paul’s life and wasn’t brought about by any plea or request from Paul himself. Jesus simply appeared to Paul. And His appearing was in spectacular fashion. Ultimately, He got the attention and the allegiance of Saul in the power of His appearing.
A great application for us is to be sincerely open to God’s appearing in our lives before we have to be destabilized, blinded, and silenced like Paul was. Remember, Paul was an educated, devoutly religious, and confidently opinionated man. Sometimes those particular characteristics can result in a stubborn response to God. Jesus’ bold appearance is in direct contract to Paul’s bold defiance of Christ leading up to this moment.
Next Jesus appoints Paul to a specific people and mission. “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.” (Acts 26:16b). Paul is sent to ‘open their eyes’ and to ‘turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (vs 18). The dark moment where Saul is blinded by Jesus’ appearance will ultimately result in the blind gentiles be redeemed from darkness to light. How amazing. This story is about Jesus darkening the eyes of one man to open the eyes of millions.
The final role Jesus is playing in this moment is that of a supernatural ‘aphesis’ing. Aphesis is a Greek work used in this text. It is often translated ‘forgiveness’ but has an even more rich meaning. The word means a ‘dismissal’ of charges or a ‘pardon…’ a ‘release from punishment’ or even a ‘letting go’ of the anger toward someone’s guilt. Paul, a very guilty man, is being chosen to proclaim a release of the guilt of an entire people group.
From an eternal perspective, this is more of an expungement than a pardon. In the process of pardon in our legal system, the punishment is waved although the guilt is still recognized. However, with an expungement, the situation is treated as if the guilt itself never happened and therefore deserves no punishment. This is the work of Jesus in us.
Jesus goes on to use Paul in a very mighty way. Many gentiles prove to be the result of this promise from God. They are forgiven of sins and they receive “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Christ) (vs 18.)
As men and women who have also been recipients of this amazing work of Jesus, we must be thankful for the way Jesus dealt with Paul. And we should celebrate the way he used Paul and millions of others like him over the past two thousand years. And there is no way to celebrate this without asking a question: Am I responding to the grace of Jesus as Paul did? Do I take my own story of salvation and make it a proclamation to those within my sphere of influence, helping anyone and everyone understand the role Christ can play in their lives?
Let’s do this together today. How can you take your own story of redemption and calling and share it with the students you lead in a way that will impact their eternity? How can you use your own story to influence those who doubt, deny, or attempt to flat-out destroy our faith? You may be surprised by all that Jesus could do with your obedience in this area, just as he did with Saul.
Dr. Brad Henson has served as a church planter in Kentucky. He is also a very thankful husband and father; he and his wife of 26 years, Stephanie, have two teenage sons, Bradon and Jackson.